A couple of times on Wednesday morning, Estancia High Coach Nate Goellrich checked on Tyler Ross. He texted Ross to calm him down before his second career start on the mound.
Ross admitted to Goellrich after he made his debut last week that he wanted to throw up. That's how nervous Ross felt.
Before Ross went back out there to pitch again, to face rival Costa Mesa at home, Goellrich assured the freshman.
"There's nobody better for us in this game. We have a chance to win the series today," Goellrich said of the texts he sent Ross.
Goellrich was right. Ross threw a gem, a three-hit shutout and the Eagles edged the Mustangs, 2-0, making it two close wins in as many days to claim the Battle for the Bell series for the fifth straight season.
The Paul Troxel Trophy, the hardware the rival schools play for each season, was on display behind the backstop. The Eagles didn't celebrate with the trophy after defeating Costa Mesa for the 12th straight time. They have to wait until Friday, when the three-game Orange Coast League series wraps up.
Win or lose, Estancia will ring the trophy at Costa Mesa.
"A sweep," Ross said is what the Eagles want against Costa Mesa.
The right-hander put Estancia (3-4, 2-0 in league) in position to do so. Ross went right at the Mustangs, throwing 62 of his 95 pitches for strikes, and he became the first pitcher to blank Costa Mesa (2-5, 0-2) this season.
Ross (1-1) didn't need much run support with the way he pitched, striking out three and walking just one. He performed much better than in his 5 2/3-inning effort in which he allowed six runs in a 7-0 loss against La Habra Whittier Christian during the Newport Elks Tournament.
For the most part, the defense made the plays behind Ross, committing just one error. The miscue came in the top of the seventh, after Ross got the leadoff batter to pop up to center field. With the game-tying run at the plate, Ross got the next two hitters to fly out.
"My arm feels like I can go another two [innings]," Ross said.
There was no need for the Eagles to go into extra innings against Costa Mesa again. They went eight innings on Tuesday at Costa Mesa, before pulling out a 6-5 win.
The first two contests have been winnable ones for the Mustangs. In the previous two seasons, not many were against Estancia. The Eagles outscored the Mustangs, 76-9, in six games.
Errors again plagued Costa Mesa against the Eagles. The Mustangs began the game with a gaffe, the first baseman unable to handle a slow grounder hit by Jackson Letterman. Letterman found his way home, aiding his path was a dropped ball at second base, before starter Ryan Lether walked two straight batters to put the hosts up, 1-0.
Lether (0-1), who gave up four hits and an unearned run in five innings, helped himself get out of trouble with the bases loaded in the first inning. He picked off a runner at third base, and third baseman Justin Fisher dived to tag the runner. Lether picked up the first of his four strikeouts to get out of the inning relatively unhurt.
Lether kept the Mustangs in the game, but the offense failed to do much against Ross, until the top of the fifth. With two outs, Grant Ripchick came into pinch-hit and singled, and Royce Friedman followed with a single. The runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball. Ross induced Grady Conner to ground out and Costa Mesa's best chance to score ended.
"If we give up two runs, we should win a baseball game," Costa Mesa Coach Paul Grady said. "We should hit the ball better than that."
Grady credited Ross, who retired the side in the first, fourth and sixth innings. In the bottom half of the sixth, the Eagles scored another run. An infield error on a routine grounder, a balk, and another infield error by Costa Mesa put runners on the corners.
Alex Jimenez, in relief for the Mustangs for the second consecutive day, struck out the next batter in four pitches. His next pitch seemed to be a strike. Nick Torres' bunt attempt on a suicide-squeeze play missed the ball. The home-plate umpire called a ball, and after the runner got back to third base safely, Grady came out to argue the call.
"Everybody in the world knows he swung and the umpire said, 'No,'" Grady said. "The umpire wouldn't ask his partner if he swung at it. It was a squeeze play. On a squeeze play, you're bunting anything. There's no take. He bunted at it, and he called it a ball. I wanted a strike in that situation."
Jimenez ended up walking Torres to load the bases. With one out, Goellrich called on Jacob Mullison to pinch-hit for Bradley Chandler, the No. 9 hitter. Mullison made the most of his at-bat, singling in a run to left field. It could've been two runs, if not for left fielder Oliver Ferris throwing out the second runner at the plate.
At some point, Goellrich planned to use Mullison, most likely in relief if Ross got in a jam early. Ross put away any thought of that, and finished what he started.
"His abilities are far above a freshman's level," Goellrich said of Ross. "That's why we give him the ball in a key situation. We needed a win today. We had all the faith in him to come out, not necessarily to give up [only three hits]. That's amazing. We knew this was going to be his game."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 2, Costa Mesa 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
Mesa 000 000 0 – 0 3 5
Estancia 100 001 x – 2 5 1
Lether, Jimenez (6) and Barton; Ross and Rodriguez. W – Ross, 1-1. L – Lether, 0-1.